The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Is There a Strategist in the House?

russia 1941One of the reasons why the German offensive into Russia in 1941, Operation Barbarossa, failed, may have been the cultural inability of the German high command to think in terms of, and visualize strategic warfare on a global scale.  The German military, prior to WWII, had very little experience with warfare outside of Europe.  Their major war experience was WWI and the primary focus of the German military in that war was in the relatively small geographic area of western Europe.  Thus, many students of World War II see the German military as experts at battle, experts at operational warfare, and complete failures as global strategists.  Today’s American army is similarly considered expert at battle and joint warfare.  Does the modern American military have a similar weakness when it comes to strategy?


January 14, 2015 - Posted by | H200 | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. You do realize that the Germans fought the Russians in WWI right? The problem was never that the Germans had no experience with fighting in Russia or that they had no conception of the size of Russia.

    In part their views were colored by the way WWI played out in Russia. In that war, although the Russians did not have a small army, they had a poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly led Army. At first the Russians had had good morale, but as military disasters at the hands of the Germans began to mount this morale began to collapse and with it collapsed the Russian Army itself. In the end of the war against the Russians before the Bolsheviks concluded peace the German Army was marching into Russia essentially unopposed. The Germans assumed that WWII would be little different. They assumed there would be large battles along the Soviet border followed by a battle with those Soviet forces that escaped the frontier battles and any Soviet reserves that existed and that these forces would be destroyed in battle between and along the Rivers Dnepr and Dvina. They then assumed that, like in WWI, there would essentially little to no further Soviet resistance and that the rest of the advance would be unopposed deep into the Soviet interior. Any problems with logistics or the vast spaces of the Soviet Union would be made up for by this lack of enemy resistance.

    In some ways they were right. The majority of Soviet forces in the field prior to the German invasion were destroyed in these battles but what the Germans didn’t count on was there being more Soviet forces that they didn’t know existed. This was largely because the Soviets had reformed their conscription system prior to the war. The result was that the Soviet had literally 100’s of reserve divisions with only small cadres kept active. When activated, whole divisions, corps and army’s could be raised whole sale to vastly increase the size of the Red Army. In July and August a total of 28 new Soviet Armies were raised consisting of millions of new Soviet troops. These units alone all but replaced the Soviet’s initial loses while many more were produced over the remainder of the year.

    That being said though I agree with the overall point. The German commanders were always taught to seek tactical and operational solutions to strategic problems. That’s why you don’t see many famous German commanders known for their grasp of logistics.

    That being said, I would like to clarify something, what specifically are you saying was a strategic mistake: invading Russia, or how the Germans planned to invade Russia?

    Comment by Liam Bobyak | January 17, 2015

  2. Also, I don’t know what’s going on with that map but that is not where Stalingrad is

    Comment by Liam Bobyak | January 17, 2015

  3. After this week, I think Mao might suggest that the Germans understood battle and operational warfare in Western Europe, maybe even Northern Africa, against western Armies. That understanding, however, did not obviously translate into understanding battle and operational warfare in Asia against Russians.

    I don’t think the American military alone has a similar weakness when it comes to strategy. I think the American military, probably similarly to German military leaders, has a relative solid appreciation of it’s capabilities, limitations and general appreciation of what resources it might need to accomplish a given national objective. Any weakness it has is in the constraints imposed by being apart of a democratically elected government. I say that not disparagingly for the benefits far outweigh the cost of most alternatives. An example of what I mean by that is that most military personnel would have advised against attacking both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously if at all. Also, most who understand our history with small wars would have, or did, insisted on more boots on the ground. Additionally, most would have argued for more limited objectives in terms of national building, given the amount of resources willing to be committed for whatever D.C. political considerations.

    However, the American military is not alone. So to answer your question more honestly, I’d have to say it does have a problem with strategy in that it’s full capabilities will inevitably be misapplied or committed to achieve objectives within it’s capabilities but require more resources than our civilian government is willing to commit.

    Comment by g.c. redford | February 7, 2015

  4. The biggest weakness which foreigners, like us British identify with the Americans is the failure to remember that strategy has both political as well as military dimensions. There needs to be a political strategy which is deeper in a way than the military strategy. There have been times when the Americans have been successful with this, but others, like in Afghanistan where I don’t think the politics had been thought through.

    Comment by anniepani | July 20, 2015

  5. Like in Klausvitz: the military strategy needs to be in service of a political strategy, else you can win battles, but lose a war.

    I don’t think that was what happened in Barbarossa. I get the impression that Hitler just underestimated the Red Army. The events in Finland and his prejudiced view of the Soviet system made him think they would collapse. That’s one view I’ve heard.

    Comment by anniepani | July 20, 2015

  6. Of course it depends what the genuine intention was of an invasion. If it is just to weaken a nation then that is much cheaper (vastly!) than nation building.

    Comment by anniepani | July 20, 2015

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